Football opens Friday Page

Published 8:55 am Thursday, August 18, 2016

By all accounts, Davie’s football team will be much improved over recent history. The War Eagles will get a chance to prove how dramatic that improvement has been in Friday’s season opener at the Page Pirates at 7:30 p.m.

It won’t be the end of the world if Davie loses a nonconference game on Aug. 19, but it would be a rather large step if it pulls the upset.

Last year the Pirates went 13-3, and after finishing second in the Metro 4-A Conference to Dudley, they reached the 4AA championship game, losing 49-6 to Mallard Creek as the Mavericks hauled off their third straight 4AA title.

This is a huge measuring stick for Davie because Page features running back Javon Leake and quarterback Will Jones. Leake announced his commitment to the Maryland Terrapins in late July. Jones committed to Western Carolina in early July. Last year the 6-4, 200-pounder completed 204 of 345 passes for 3,098 yards with 31 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

“(Leake’s) a great, great running back,” Davie coach DeVore Holman said. “He’s a big running back. He’s very shifty. He’s one of those you can’t give a lot of daylight to. You have to limit his open field.”

Slowing Jones will be equalling challenging for Davie.

“You’ve got to contain (Leake), and their quarterback is special, too,” Holman said. “You’ve got to really concentrate on the run because the quarterback will show pass and he’ll pull it down because he doesn’t mind running it either. We’ve got to make sure we’re gap sound all the way across the front, and everybody’s got to get hats to the football.”

Page’s longtime coach, Kevin Gillespie, on Jones: “(Western Carolina) is getting a steal,” he told the Greensboro News & Record. “I don’t think they truly know yet what caliber of quarterback they’re getting. He had several big boys courting him, but none of them wanted to pull the trigger.”

On the flip side for Page, the Pirates are replacing four of five offensive linemen and all but one receiver.

Davie and Page will open against each other for the sixth straight year. Interestingly enough, the home team hasn’t prevailed since 2010. Page won 41-7 in 2011. Davie won 31-14 in 2012. Page won 32-22 in 2013. Davie won 45-40 in 2014.

But last year was one of the worst openers in Davie history. Page, which exploded for 28 points in the first quarter and 46 in the first half, scored on an INT return and two blocked punts en route to a 53-22 decision. Leake (16 carries for 196 yards) and Jones (9 of 15 for 185 passing yards and three TDs) did whatever they wanted as Davie allowed the most points ever in an opener.

Davie couldn’t do anything on the ground (38 rushing yards), but Chris Reynolds did play very well in defeat, aside from two picks. He went 14 of 22 for 280 yards, with three TD passes to Ben Ellis, who had eight catches for 200 yards. Ellis has graduated, but Cooper Wall, who had four catches for 72 yards, is back as a junior.

It’s no secret Davie has struggled since Doug Illing left in 2012, going 4-7 to finish fifth in the Central Piedmont Conference in 2013, 6-6 to finish fifth in 2014 and 5-7 to finish fourth in 2015. Davie’s last winning season was 9-4 in 2012 in Illing’s 15th and final year. But Holman believes Reynolds, Wall, receiver Beau Byerly, runner Peyton Hampton, a seasoned offensive line and an experienced defense led by James Boyle and Cody Hendrix can turn the tide in 2016.

The QB pairing is intriguing as Davie will counter with Reynolds, who went 207 of 317 for 2,874 yards with 28 TDs and 10 INTs – not to mention a team-high 745 rushing yards – in one of the greatest seasons ever. Hampton rushed for 232 yards and averaged 4.5 per carry, most of it coming down the stretch in his freshman season. With Wall split out, Davie will have one of the top QB-receiver duos in the state. Wall was not your typical No. 2 receiver as a sophomore, racking up 67 catches for 1,102 yards and nine TDs.

They will operate behind what appears to be a reliable offensive line that includes four returning starters (center Bailey Sloan, tackles Luke Pratapas and Ross Starnes and guard Zach Clubb).

What’s more, Davie returns the top four tacklers from 2015. Boyle had 160 tackles and 28 for loss. Hendrix had 130 tackles, 17 for loss and a team-high five sacks. Broc Barnette had 72 tackles and Jack Little 51. All four are linebackers. Spencer Wilson, Jalen Redmond and Ronald Wilson give Davie a strong d-line, and sophomore safety Hite Merrifield is the headliner in the secondary.

“I’m excited about what we’ve got to offer, and I can’t wait to see it dialed up against Page,” Holman said.

The War Eagles will be the underdog Friday. But underdog means you’re not expected to win; it doesn’t mean you won’t. They couldn’t have closed last year much better. They had to win the last two regular-season games to make the playoffs, and they outlasted Mt. Tabor 40-33 after losing 13 of 15 in the series. After scoring the most points ever against Tabor, they rallied for a 39-19 win over Parkland, which led 12-0 less than four minutes in. In the first round of the 4A playoffs, they gave Scotland County a major scare in 44-36 defeat. Scotland was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state. It was the most points the Scots have allowed in 27 games.

“We finished on a pretty good note,” Holman said. “We lost to the No. 1 team in the state but we fought tooth and nail. I couldn’t ask our kids to play any harder. That was week 12. We want to make week 1 against Page our week 13. We want to extend what we did and we want to start that way.”

Notes: Things can turn around quickly in sports. Page went 3-10 in 2014. … Davie leads the series 6-5. … This is Davie’s 61st year and the final one at the current campus. Davie’s all-time record is 352-295-15. … The 31st-annual Football Edition will be published next week. … To get updates on the game, you can follow Brian Pitts on twitter at @BrianPitts879.